Sunday, May 26, 2013

Vigilant Presence in a Hostile World

We will become all that we are in everything that we do.
When we live constantly under stressful or hostile conditions, we must become most vigilant at maintaining our presence as we cannot control what people do or how they are. Our mental and emotional states, on the other hand, are our own. We either get carried away by the winds and the currents of others, or we become the prevailing force in our lives and in the lives of others.

It is easy to continue the cycle of reactivity. By doing so we don’t adequately take care of our own mental and emotional states. Our conditions, instead, take control over these internal states, leaving us to be carried away by anything and everyone. This is why we must constantly exercise our authority over those states of mind and heart. It is only with continued vigilance over this ownership that we become that bit of peace in every storm. Slowly, we become more comfortable with that ownership.

This can be very difficult, as stressful conditions can include threats of violence or even acts of violence. We see these threats and acts across the planet. As we are all connected, even the most distant of threats affects us, even if we’re unaware that it does. Yet, our lives continue, seemingly unabated. It simply becomes more obvious when these are in our communities and even our own households. If we’ve ever experienced a moment of peace in our presence, it was something we were touching from within, not without. That place of presence is always with us, even in the worst of situations.

How do we remain vigilant in these most hostile of conditions? We can become so exhausted maintaining a defensive posture with our bodies and our minds. At moments we may succumb to these conditions, striking out or shutting down are only two potential options. There are consequences for all options. Instead of constantly being on the defensive, there are tangible alternatives that can help maintain a vigilant presence.

One of the keys to maintaining vigilance in hostile terrain is generating compassion. This compassion can be directed internally for our own pain and suffering as well as externally for those perpetrating the hostility. This may seem like an impossible task, but if we explore the situation of the lives of our perpetrators we understand there are events that have led to what they are perpetrating. This may not lessen the physical damage, but it can alleviate some of the mental and emotional repercussions of hostility.

When we generate compassion for those who act against us or who we feel are acting against us, we’re untethering our internal condition from external conditions. This brings back ownership over our internal states; once again we’re at the helm of the vessel of our life, as opposed to everything and everyone else governing how we think, how we feel and how we respond.

We don’t have to take all that happens so deeply personally. In the throes of something happening to us, this can be difficult to believe. We want to fall back into the old patterns. Instead of claiming ownership over our role, we would much rather suffer, using others and conditions to do so. The old patterns are familiar and asking questions of engagement are difficult, tough and requires mental and emotional resources we’ve become unfamiliar with using. It’s far easier to view ourselves as the victim then to disrupt this cycle.

When we stop taking everything as a personal attack, each full of malice and intent, it loosens us up just a bit. It makes us feel less under attack, less the target. If we constantly view what others do and say as being directed toward us, it magnifies everything about those actions and those words make us think and feel.

We have to understand that magnification is our role in expanding hostility in our lives. Certainly, people can be abrasive even hurtful, but we don’t have to contribute to the damage being waged. We can, instead, see that the actions and words of others say much more about them than it does about our own experience. We can also act to magnify all the storylines we repeat to ourselves about how we’re not good enough, about how awful we are and how we don’t deserve goodness. We do this without even realizing it. The way in which we think and feel about our own self colors and shades everything we hear and experience.

When we stop magnifying our own hostility as well as the hostility of others, we immediately begin expanding our presence. We’re not getting as caught up in our own storylines or in the story others are telling about us. It can be very difficult to catch ourselves and disrupt this process of magnification. When we dissect this process, it really exposes how we think and feel about ourselves. That’s the presence we’re trying to strengthen. What others do to us or say about us can only affect us if we already think and feel similarly.

When harm or even perceived harm is our reality, we need to engage and challenge the situation with our awareness. Difficulty is always an opportunity to expand awareness, not shut that awareness down. What rational human being wants to harm anyone? This is like poisoning a field or a well that not just yourself but others use for food or water. This is what hostility does; it poisons the human community; it perpetuates the cycle of violence. And, we drink from the same well; we eat from the same field that we’re poisoning.

When we expand our awareness of any situation, it is never a wasted endeavor. We can begin to see more clearly what is being done and what we are doing to alleviate or worsen every situation. If we think something is being done to us, it fundamentally changes the way our minds and hearts experience what is happening. We need to challenge that belief, not feed into it. By expanding our awareness, we’re pumping fresh oxygen, fresh energy into the situation. The alternative is to accept the situation with no hope of changing it. If we actively engage a situation with our mind and our heart, we can see it more clearly from multiple perspectives. This lessens the devastation and broadens our role in the present.

Clearly seeing the links of cause and effect helps in remaining vigilant. When we become caught up in these reactivity cycles, we’re only adding to the toxicity problem. We may not be able to remove all the poison from the fields and wells, but we don’t have to continue adding poison into every situation and every person we encounter. To do something different, to stop or even lessen our reactivity requires so much strength, so much vigilance.

Sometimes, the perpetrators in our life are those that are in our family or in our household. In this scenario it becomes even more difficult to remain vigilant, to find compassion. And, the poisoning can be very subtle. It’s more of a drip drip drip over time as opposed to an obvious, tangible and damaging oil spill. Subtle toxicity has a long lasting impact; the deepest parts of the soil become tainted. It can become impossible to discern the difference between the good from the tainted. In fact, there is no separating the two.

Just as we cannot separate the good from the tainted, when we play our familiar role within the reactivity cycle, we are playing both the victim and the perpetrator simultaneously. Our role within the reactivity of a household is often well-established. Whenever we attempt to break out of those well-established roles, the entire household can become even more reactive in response. We must be vigilant to return to being present when we undoubtedly revert to playing out these roles.

We must have patience for ourselves in maintaining vigilant presence. We must learn to catch ourselves before we revert to our old roles. We can even learn to catch ourselves in the midst of acting out. And, despite all of this effort to do other than, we can find ourselves on the other side, having already completed our familiar role in this reactive climate.  We’ve lost our presence yet again.

Undoubtedly, we will reprise these roles again and again and again, and it’s okay; it’s understandable. In the seemingly endless string of sequels, we have to learn to be okay with losing our presence and coming back to it. This is the only way. The only way to maintain the vigilance of presence is to lose that presence. Our conditions, both internal and external, urge us to go backward, to return to what feels so familiar and normal.

When we lose our presence once again, we must celebrate it by having patience for it. It’s a blessing. What we have left to work through has been exposed to us once again. Our presence will grow in strength, and when we lose it or realize we have already lost it, we just simply acknowledge it. As we learn how to be present again, patience is vital. Without it, we will never be able to clear out all the reactivity within us. And, without losing it, we could never truly find our vigilant presence.

Our vigilance of presence starts with having compassion for ourselves and others and in not taking anything personally.  We begin to stop magnifying the storylines we’ve grown to believe about ourselves. We then realize how cause and effect unfold in our lives. We continue forward challenging our minds to really engage our lives and our difficulties. Through all of this, we must always generate patience for ourselves.

It is difficult to disrupt the multitude of prevailing winds and currents that distract us, to disrupt and break our presence. The multitude of disruptions originates from not only our conditions but from ourselves as well. However, we can do this. We can continue to work toward being present in all that we do. Over time, our presence will become our new default. Over time, we will become the prevailing wind and current that others seek out as shelter in their storms. We will become all that we are in everything that we do. That’s what vigilance of presence becomes. We can do this. We can begin today.

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